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Utah & Arizona: How to Plan the Grand Circle Road Trip

Utah and Arizona are some of the best states, with many hiking and biking options. The red rocks are also popular for other activities like 4-wheeler off-roading or ATV-ing.

However, Utah and Arizona have many National or State Parks where you can take a road trip too. There are so many scenic byways and overlooks throughout these parks.

We had a road trip through the famous Grand Circle, which includes some of the best National Parks. Also, we stopped at some picturesque places and state parks along the way.

In this post, I will tell you how we planned our trip and how you can do it with alternative options.

5-day Trip Plan

Let’s say we are flying to the Las Vegas airport (LAX) and arriving there in the morning. I am considering Vegas since the flight price is cheaper, considering other nearby airports in Arizona and Utah.

From here, you have two options: start the trip by visiting Zion National Park first and then Bryce Canyon, Moab, and Page, followed by the Grand Canyon National Park at the end, and then return to the Vegas airport.

However, we did the opposite and started with the Grand Canyon first and the Zion National Park at the end. Here’s how we planned our trip:

Day 01: LAX to Grand Canyon

In the morning, we picked up our car, had our breakfast, and started for the iconic Grand Canyon. En route, we made a pit stop at the monumental Hoover Dam. Standing at the precipice of this engineering marvel, we were amazed by its sheer magnitude and the serene expanse of Lake Mead.

Continuing our journey towards the Grand Canyon, we took a detour via the renowned Route 66. We stopped at some stores on the way, with plenty of souvenirs and historical items. The journey unveiled a mesmerizing tapestry of rugged terrains, vast expanses of desert, and mars-alike rock formations.

As we approached close to the Grand Canyon’s edge, the sheer enormity of the view left us speechless. Our first glimpse from Mather Point was amazing, and we took many pictures there. It’s just mesmerizing thinking and looking at the canyons carved by the forces of nature over millennia, creating layers of red and orange hues.

Traversing along the South Rim, we embarked on an expedition through the Canyon’s other viewpoints, all located along one single route. Each stop revealed a unique panorama, offering breathtaking perspectives of this geological marvel.

Both Yavapai Point and Hopi Point were equally incredible. The day concluded with a mesmerizing sunset at the Desert View Watchtower, which you need to take the scenic byway to reach the point.

We stayed at a nearby location that night; however, it would be better to have a night stay somewhere between the Grand Canyon and Page, Arizona. We thought we would have a view of the sunrise from the Grand Canyon, which we couldn’t for some reason.

Day 02: To Moab via Horseshoe Bend, Marble Canyon, and Monument Valley

Day 2 was one heck of a ride! We kicked off our day from a nearby city (where we stayed the night) of the Grand Canyon, and it was a hectic ride all the way to Moab!

Our first stop was Horseshoe Bend, where the Colorado River carved out a cool horseshoe-shaped bend in the rock. Standing on the edge, looking down at the river below, made us feel so small in this vast landscape. It is only a 15-minute hike from the parking to the edge! We really had some cool pictures here, especially my current profile picture for social media.

Next up, we hit Marble Canyon. It wasn’t on our plan, though. I was checking other nearby places and suddenly found it. The exciting part is the scenic road that took us there.

Then, we were off to Monument Valley. This place is like straight out of those old Western movies! Yeah, you get it right! A horse rider standing at the canyon’s edge is looking at the monuments- just like that. Since we were in a hurry, we couldn’t drive off the road, which goes through the Navajo Nation park and is also closed by 6 pm local time. While going towards Moab, we also stopped at the famous Forest Gump Point and took the calendar picture-alike photos we saw during our childhood.

Our last stop was Gooseneck State Park. It’s called ‘Gooseneck’ because the San Juan River twists and turns like a goose’s neck. Looking down at those tight river bends was insane! I mean, nature’s artwork is all around us today. We spent the sunset time over there, and then we started getting back to the road after it was almost dark.

We reached Moab at around 12 am and checked into our pre-booked hotel. We knew Day 3 was going to be more exciting!

Day 03: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon NPs

Day 3 was also a long day, during which we visited four national parks and a state park. Yeah, you heard me right!

We kicked off our day at Canyonlands National Park! The Mesa Arch hike offered a picture-perfect window to the vast canyon landscapes. It was a short hike; anyone of any age and fitness level can do this 1-mile roundtrip hike.

And the Grand View Point? Let’s just say the name did not lie. The view was mind-blowing! It offers a panoramic view of the vast valley down a thousand feet. There are several hiking and camping spots nearby as well!

Next up, we cruised over to Dead Horse State Park. The views from Dead Horse Point were wild! Standing at the edge, gazing down at the Colorado River, making those wild loops, was picture perfect. We could also enjoy the distant San Juan mountain range from there.

And then, Arches National Park! Caution: This is the only national park in the Grand Loop that needs early reservation and timed entry. Here, we could not resist driving through the scenic route, catching glimpses of some spectacular rock formations. We even got a peek at the Delicate Arch from the bottom, as we did not have time to hike it!

Then, it was a long drive towards the Bryce Canyon National Park via the Capitol Reef National Park. We reached the Bryce Canyon NP in the late afternoon, and our day ended with a surreal sunset at Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon National Park.

We also enjoyed hiking the Navajo Loop; navigating through the twisted paths was a journey in itself. Finally, we laid our heads down in Bryce Canyon City, eagerly anticipating what Day 4 had in store for us!

Day 04: The mighty Zion National Park and return back to Las Vegas

We kicked off our day with a burst of excitement at Zion National Park. The scenic byway from the East entrance was like stepping into a whole new world.

The whole scenic route was excellent, and there were so many overlook points to take photos of. Our first significant pitstop was the Canyon Overlook trail. The short hike (1 mile roundtrip) revealed a breathtaking view that made every step worth it.

We hopped on the shuttle once we reached the visitor center to explore more. The Narrows, the final stop on the shuttle route, was our primary target, as we did not have time to stop at other points. The sheer grandeur of the canyon walls towering above the river was beyond imagination.

We soaked in every last view at the visitor center before hitting the road again. We came out from the park via the Springdale entrance and drove back towards Las Vegas!

Under its glittering night lights, Las Vegas amazed us while we walked through the city streets. The vibrant energy and the dazzling lights were the perfect end to an epic day. We were tired and did not stay outside too long to enjoy the nightlife!

Day 05: Las Vegas again and Take the Flight

Our flight was scheduled for the afternoon, and we were debating whether to visit the Death Valley National Park or not. Since it was a bit remote, we did not want to take the risk!

So again, we were visiting nearby tourist spots and returned to the car rental service well ahead of flight time. If our flight was scheduled for the late afternoon or the evening, we could visit the Death Valley NP. Maybe next time!

If you have the whole day, you can visit the Death Valley NP and checkmark another national park!

Concluding Remarks

Overall, it was a great journey throughout the trip, and we enjoyed the mesmerizing beauty of the rocks and landscapes all along the way.

People do the Grand Circle road trip differently based on the objective and priority. In this post, I tried to provide a glimpse of how we planned our journey so that at least you get the idea of what to visit along the way.

Best wishes, and let me know how you plan! See ya!

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